One of the unique aspects of commercial nuclear power in the U.S., is the regulatory role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its resident inspectors. Each commercial power plant in our country has at least two NRC inspectors who work to ensure compliance with NRC requirements. At the Brunswick Nuclear Plant in Southport, N.C., the NRC recently announced a new Senior Resident Inspector, Galen Smith. Galen replaced Michelle Catts who had been at Brunswick for several years. We took the opportunity to chat with Michelle before she rotated out for her next position.
How did you get started with the NRC?
Catts always loved mathematics and physics, so when she went to college, she gravitated to the nuclear engineering program. During her tenure as a student at North Carolina State University, she had the opportunity to do an internship with the NRC. After working initially for a utility company, Catts hired on with the NRC and completed the two-year training program. She then joined a small team of inspectors with oversight responsibilities in the west. At the time, Catts was one of just eight women out of the NRC’s nearly 150 inspectors when she took the position of resident inspector at the Palo Verde plant in Arizona. She later went on to become a senior resident inspector at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant.
What do you like most about your role?
Catts responded that she enjoys her work because she knows she makes a difference. As a resident inspector she has complete, unfettered access to the entire site and can walk into the site vice president’s office with anything that needs to be addressed. It is a lot of responsibility. Catts reports she feels good knowing she plays a part in keeping the plant operating safely.
What is your biggest challenge?
Catts' answer was clear: Work-life balance. As the mother of two, it can be challenging to have to move every so often. Resident inspectors are discouraged from socializing with anyone from the plant they are assigned to and can only stay at any given plant for a maximum of seven years. Those elements make it hard to develop a solid social network and raise a family. She also works some odd hours. The resident inspectors work what they call a “first 40” schedule. Sometimes they have to work on weekends and evenings, so they plan carefully and are not restricted to a traditional work schedule. Instead, they finish their workweek whenever they first reach 40 hours for that week. Catts indicates the schedule provides her the flexibility and independence she needs to do her job, but it can be difficult to predict and make plans around.
You can learn more about the NRC Resident Inspector Program on their website, www.nrc.gov.